When Art Becomes Yoga

What happens when we enter into an art room? I am not just talking about a gallery in a museum where there are various works on the walls, but rather a room that in itself becomes the work. A room in which when we enter, time seems to stop, all of our senses are expanded to their edge, and we take a minute to reflect. How do we get this meditative experience from art?

There are a couple of spaces like this in the Phillips: the Rothko Room and the Laib Wax Room. Maybe it is because of my roots in yoga, but these meditative spaces continue to be my favorite to frequent. I still remember the first time I stepped into each of them. Somehow, everything became clear to me, yet nothing made sense. This feeling never goes away, no matter how many times I enter and exit. Part of me feels trapped in this time and space, yet I am perfectly comfortable being there. I feel so comfortable because the art supports me. As I slowly drift into my own thoughts, the art is a crutch that remains a constant focal point for what I am experiencing.

These spaces achieve this in a different way:

Rothko provides a variety of images to rest the eyes on, allowing the viewer the ability to take a closer look inward. In yoga instructor terms, this is called “holding the space,” when a teacher creates a safe space for participants to relax fully.


The Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Benjamin Resine

Laib does the meditation for you. When one enters his room, the surrounding hue of gold and sweet but subtle smell of wax mutes your senses, and your thoughts soon follow. This creates a buzz of relaxation and meditation that makes the space so pleasing.


The Laib Wax Room at The Phillips Collection

This experience looks different to every visitor. Just like every yogi needs and takes something different from the practice, each visitor is in need of something different when they come to these rooms. They allow for viewers to engage with art in a way that is deeply personal and that is just as beautiful as the art itself.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern

ArtGrams: The Laib Wax Room

Laib Wax Room_3_pottergriffin

Via Instagrammer @pottergriffin: “#tbt to my parents visiting the Wolfgang Laib #waxroom at the #phillipscollection this past Sunday. I think my dad is pretending to be a bee. They flew back home this morning and I miss them already.”

The Laib Wax Room has been a visitor favorite since its installment in 2013. In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re highlighting some of your creative shots of the space.

Laib Wax Room_6_grandnostaflash

Via Instagrammer @grandnostaflash

Laib Wax Room_2_ginacrat

Via Instagrammer @ginacrat: “Evan sniffing the beeswax room”

Laib Wax Room_7_thenocallshow

Via Instagrammer @thenocallshow: “Ms. @cecilemouthon in a room made of beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_1_amperrlee

Via Instagrammer @amperrlee: “Just casually standing in a teeny room, lined with beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_5_goholmes

Via Instagrammer @goholmes: “room of wax, featuring rashonda harris”


Mindful Mountains, Cheerful Trees: Looking Closely at the Phillips

Fifteen brave participants joined me during Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days for an all-ages gallery exploration, “Mindful Mountains, Cheerful Trees: Looking Closely at the Phillips.” By observing our thoughts and works of art in the galleries, we practiced mindfulness.

Prior to the tour, I had created a set of mind jars, spurred by the excellent children’s book Moody Cow Meditates.

Mind jars awaiting new friends in the Phillips' Courtyard.

Photo: Meagan Estep

When you shake a mind jar, the swirling glitter represents crazy, overwhelming, troublesome (or excited, or thrilled) thoughts—basically our frazzled minds on a normal day. As you watch the glitter settle, your mind begins to do the same.

We started in the Courtyard, where each person picked a color of glitter and poured it into a jar. Then we swirled and swirled, thinking of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions occurring for each of us that day. Watching his mind jar, a ten-year-old observed: “I feel my mind settle. I am calmer now.”

Participants enjoying meditation and the mind jars in the Courtyard.

Photo: James Brantley

Then we gathered inside before Morris Louis’s Number 182 and Blue Column. Participants mentioned the words “serene” and “peaceful” while looking at Louis’s paintings. For me, the colors had never danced before my eyes so vividly.

The Phillips Collections opens its doors for the annual Jazz and Families Weekend, celebrating art, music and creativity for young and old at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 1, 2013.   DC Councilman and Mayoral candidate Jack Evans, a longtime arts supporter, helped open the event.(James R. Brantley)

Photo: James Brantley

Being mind-full is much more difficult than being mind-less, but the benefits are endless. I’ve decided to keep a mind jar on my desk here at the Phillips, so I can remember to let my thoughts settle throughout the day.

Recreate the experience at home using this mind jar recipe:

You will need:

  • Quart-sized glass Mason jar
  • Hot water
  • Glycerin (look in the pharmacy section of your grocery store) or light corn syrup
  • Dish soap
  • Fine glitter in any color


Fill Mason jar 3/4 to the top with hot water (not boiling!). Add 1/4–1/2 cup of glycerin. Glycerin will act as a slowing agent for the glitter, so the more you add, the longer it will take for your glitter to settle. Stir the glycerin in with a fork or whisk for one minute.

Add a few handfuls of glitter—how much is up to you. How many thoughts do you have in your mind right now? What colors are your emotions today? Choose your glitter based on how you feel.

Shake the jar.

You’ll notice that some glitter remains at the top of the water (this is surface tension—an underlying science lesson, too!). Add 4–5 drops of dish soap and shake gently. The glitter should begin to fall without creating too many bubbles.

Your mind jar is ready to go! Add more hot water if you want the glitter to fall faster; more glycerin or corn syrup to decrease the speed. And more glitter as you see fit.

Meagan Estep, Teacher Programs Coordinator